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VP search perilous 'outside box'
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


July 14, 2008

First, do no harm.

Then, deliver something -- preferably a big electoral state.

They're the two cardinal rules of Vice-Presidential Politics 101, but in this confounding, precedent-shattering election year, will they still matter in the selection of a running mate?

For example, does Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard chief executive officer who has been campaigning vigorously for presumptive GOP presidential nominee John McCain, really have a shot at the No. 2 spot?

She has been in the news a lot lately -- not always in a way she might like -- most recently last week when she complained to reporters that insurers cover the cost of Viagra but not birth-control pills, in the process misrepresenting McCain's record and igniting a mini-firestorm on the Internet.

The buzz around Fiorina only underscores the tough choices facing McCain and Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic nominee.

Do they go with the old reliables of geography and political experience -- that is, a vice-presidential candidate who can both swing a state and not surprise us with any new information -- or, do they go with a new face, an "outside the box" candidate from the private sector?

There's also the gender issue, certainly a timely one this year. On the Democratic side are thoroughly vetted candidates like Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, Gov. Kathleen Sibelius of Kansas and Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri. On the Republican side are Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson of Texas and Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska.

Fiorina has made no secret of her interest in the No. 2 spot, telling reporters her six years running Hewlett-Packard gave her the kind of executive decision-making experience -- from freezing budgets to trimming the work force -- that U.S. senators can only talk about.

John Brabender, who has been advising McCain on media strategy, said he would "love the idea of having a woman on the ticket. Carly Fiorina is articulate, likable and smart and would be terrific, but do we know everything that would be used against her?"

On the other hand, he noted, Tom Ridge is a known quantity and could deliver Pennsylvania, something the GOP couldn't do in the last two presidential elections. The former Pennsylvania governor and Homeland Security secretary has been largely written off because of his pro-choice stance.

"People have said John McCain has a conservative problem, but I'm not seeing that in the polling data," Brabender said, adding that Ridge is perceived as a relatively conservative governor who supported abortion restrictions enacted by his predecessor, Bob Casey.

McCain nonetheless needs a choice that energizes his candidacy and reinforces his image as not just a typical politician, argued Nathan Gonzales, political editor of The Rothenberg Political Report, a Washington-based newsletter.

The McCain campaign declined to make Fiorina available for an interview, citing her busy schedule.

Fiorina's tenure at Hewlett-Packard included a controversial merger with Compaq Computer Corp., thousands of layoffs, a sinking stock price, public feuding with the company's family members and an exodus of talented executives, culminating with her firing in 2005 and a lavish $21 million severance package.

As Hewlett-Packard's stock price has bounced back, there's debate about whether Fiorina should get credit -- even as she contended in her memoir, "Tough Choices," that she was treated more harshly because she was a woman.

Not only that, she was an ambitious woman -- known to be interested in political office, appearing on television frequently and, at one point, on the cover of Forbes magazine with Condoleezza Rice.

"She handled herself on TV very well," said Bill Whalen, a research fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution, noting that if she doesn't make it in a McCain administration, she might run in the 2010 race against Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., or, in 2012, for California governor, since Arnold Schwarzenegger is prohibited from running again.

"There are a lot of attractive options out there for her," Whalen said.

Fiorina's turbulent record at Hewlett-Packard, as well as her years at AT&T and Lucent Technologies, could be fair game for Obama's opposition researchers, added David Carney, a Republican strategist who worked in George H.W. Bush's White House.

While McCain should fight the instinct to be safe, he also must pick someone who can survive the brutal hazing that vice-presidential candidates must undergo.

"The McCain people may be thinking about reaching out to someone in business, but they need to be careful," Carney said. "Did that company outsource jobs? Did the company's stock price perform? Are there subsidiaries who use slave labor?"


E-mail Mackenzie Carpenter at mcarpenter(at)
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